2005-04-01 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

The Wave has received some startling news.

It was announced privately today, April 1, that The Wave has won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Community Journalism.

That’s right, the Pulitzer Prize. Pretty exciting, huh?

The public announcement, which will probably shake up the journalism world, will be made later in the month.

The Wave received its Pulitzer, one of the most prestigious awards in Journalism, for its continuing coverage of the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into Belle Harbor in November of 2001.

Advance word of the award came to the newspaper’s office by officials of the Columbia University School of Journalism, which administers the yearly awards.

In fact, The Wave won the award in several of the categories, reportedly beating out the New York Times, the New York Post, as well as several supermarket tabloids for the coveted prize.

“We can think of no better community newspaper in the nation,” a spokesperson for the prize committee said when he told the paper’s editors about the award. “It is amazing what you can do with a three-person staff.”

The major award that will be presented at the annual dinner is for “Beat Reporting,” an award given for “sustained and knowledgeable coverage of a particular subject or activity.”

“The Wave covered the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 from the first day it happened, hosted a “Witness Forum,” covered all the alternative theories of why the crash occurred as well as a number of Lunatic terrorist theories and, finally, the National Transportation’s final report. This coverage was in the best tradition of community journalism,” the citation will say when it is presented to Wave editors in June.

The spokesperson for the Columbia Journalism school pointed to such examples as the “Farouk The Tunisian” story from Canada that posited a shoe bomber who brought down AA 587 and the “German Airbus Memo” story about an internal memorandum found in Airbus’ files that prove they knew the A300 series aircraft were dangerous.

In addition, Columbia said, The Wave covered the peripheral issues of a memorial for the victims of the crash, the lawsuits involving the victim’s families and those who lost property in Rockaway, as well as the stories of other A300 series aircraft that had upset problems as well.

“This was one of the most well-rounded continuing coverage of a single story that we have never seen in a weekly before, and seldom see in the larger daily papers,” the citation said.

All in all, the judges at Columbia counted more than 150 stories, columns, editorials and items related to the crash in the pages of The Wave in the intervening years since the crash.

“We have not been able to find another example of a community paper writing about one issue such as this in all of the years we have been looking at newspapers,” one judge said.

The first cover story about the crash came in The Wave’s November 15, 2001 issue, which featured a large color photo. This was the first time that The Wave used a large color picture on its front page, and it has continued that tradition ever since.

The latest articles appeared in the issue of March 25, 2005, in which there were two stories: A story on page 2 about the similarities and difference between AA Flight 587 and the recent upset of Air Transat Flight 961, a flight from Cuba to Canada that lost its rudder in flight; and a page 44 story about the upcoming hearing on the lawsuits brought by those who died in the crash as well as those who suffered property damage with the Airbus A300 crashed.

In between those two issues, The Wave published approximately 176 editions, meaning that there was almost an average of one story related to AA 587 in each issue.

There are still many things unresolved with the crash and its aftermath.

The city will soon begin building a memorial to those who died in AA 587 at Beach 116 Street and the beachfront, on the turnaround owned by the Parks Department. It is expected that it will mirror the memorial built to those who died in the crash that was built two years ago in Benin, Dominican Republic. By the November 12, 2006 anniversary of the crash, the memorial services will be held at that memorial, tying up Beach 116 Street, Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Beach Channel Drive for miles in every direction.

Of the 46 families that have not accepted a deal from the consortium of Airbus Industries and American Airlines, 35 will decide not to agree to a settlement, forcing Judge Robert Sweet to reopen the discovery process, which is designed to find liability for the crash. In open court, Airbus will be forced to admit that it knew that the rudder of the A300 series aircraft was flawed for many years, and Airbus will be forced to pay billions of dollars to those who have not yet agreed to a settlement. Those 230 who accepted settlements will try and reopen their cases in the light of the Airbus admission, but Judge Sweet will shoot them down.

And that’s the way it is on April 1, 2005, the only day that this column could have, or would have been written. Happy April Fool’s Day everybody.

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